Keep spiders out of your home with proper pest control (© Theo Allofs/Corbis)

Spiders are a lot like snakes. They’re misunderstood, and mostly harmless — even quite beneficial. But you don’t have to be Little Miss Muffet to get a little squeamish at the idea of sharing your tuffet with them. Or your home.

If your home has more cobwebs than a haunted house, what’s the solution? How do you send Charlotte and her web packing?

The arachnid experts have the answers for you.

First, meet your roommates
There are about 3,000 species of spiders in North America. “Most spiders are not truly dangerous. Most spiders are either beneficial or not of any concern,” says Richard Zack, a professor of entomology at Washington State University.  So if you find them out in your garden, let them be, he recommends.

And inside? In most cases, “they’re great to have in your house if you can not freak out when you see them,” says Wizzie Brown, extension program specialist in Austin for Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Why? They eat other insects and keep to themselves, usually out of sight. And they don’t damage the house.

But, of course, “it really depends on a person and their comfort level,” Brown says.

Search for ways to get rid of spiders.How to get rid of spiders

Among the thousands of spiders, there are a few that people fear out of proportion to their actual danger because they have a venomous bite: The hobo spider (PDF), which generally lives in the Pacific Northwest; the black widow (PDF), which lives all over the nation and whose adult female is known for her red hourglass marking on a black body; and the brown recluse, which lives in the central Midwest from Nebraska south to Texas and east to north central Georgia.

What's your home worth?

Though the bites from these spiders can cause some harm to humans — “There are reported deaths in children which were probably due to brown recluses,” says Rick Vetter, a professor of entomology and a brown recluse expert at the University of California-Riverside — the fear far exceeds the reality. Spiders suffer from a public-relations problem more than anything else, Vetter says. Spiders don’t want to mess with you; they bite only when they’re threatened. (Vetter likes to mention a woman in Lenexa, Kan., who collected 2,055 brown recluse spiders in six months in her 1850s-built home. Her family of four has been living in the home for eight years without any evident bites, he says.)

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Dispatching your unwanted tenants
Let’s say you’ve got lots of spiders in the house, though … and you’re tired of them. Now what?

The experts have some advice:

1. Put down that can of Raid. When it comes to our eight-legged friends, “Pesticide control is difficult and rarely necessary,” says the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program. Spiders are pretty resilient; you’ve practically got to fire the spray right at them. And why fill the air with pesticide when you can just whack ’em with a rolled-up newspaper? (Seriously — that’s one of the methods the experts suggest.)       

Read:  Battle bees without bugging out

2. Suck up those suckers. Another preferred method for dealing with spiders and their webs: the good old vacuum cleaner. “Sucking them up with a vacuum cleaner is actually a really easy thing to do,” Brown says. The experience is tidy for you, and it kills the spider. Moreover, says Brown, if you stay diligent and keep sucking up a spider’s web (even if you don’t get the actual spider), the spider often either dies or moves to a more hassle-free place.

3. Toss ’em (outside). If you don’t want to smoosh them, do what Brown does: Simply toss the spiders outside. But, if you do that, she says to make sure you’ve sealed up your house so they don’t waltz right back in. (See below.) Don’t want to handle them? We don’t blame you. Try this: Slip a jar over the creature. Then slip a piece of paper under the jar. Voila!

Keeping spiders at bay
OK — so you’ve tossed the spiders out of the house. Now how do you keep them out?

Turns out it’s not so easy.

“There are no sure, long-lasting control measures for spiders,” Vetter writes. The best defense, experts say, is to create a home that’s not hospitable to them. To that end, there are several things you can do:

1. Close the door. “Try to close all of those openings that a spider can come into,” Zack says. Walk around your house and think like a spider: Where could you slink in? Spiders frequently use the door — or the gaps around one, Brown says. “If you can see daylight around the door, it’s not a good seal.” Check whether screens are repaired.

Now look more closely around the house’s base. Air vents should be covered in fine hardware mesh that allows for circulation but keeps spiders out. Seal cracks in the foundation. Weep holes around pipes should be stuffed with steel wool, caulked or filled with foam. “That really will go a long way toward solving your problems,” Zack says.

2. Pull it back. Everybody likes a smooth path toward home. That goes for spiders, too. Deny them that. Trim shrubs adjacent to your house. That “will discourage spiders from first taking up residence near the structure and then moving indoors,” according to the University of California. And look up: Cut back tree limbs several feet from the house, Brown says. (That’s also good advice for keeping squirrels at bay.)

3. Clean up your act. “Both inside and outside, you want to just eliminate as much debris as possible,” Zack says. Why? Spiders generally don’t like wide open spaces. They prefer to hole up in dark little nooks and crannies. Behind stuff. In between things. Under clutter. “Human beings are very, very good at creating ideal situations for critters that were intended to live out of doors,” Zack says. When you remove hiding places, you make a place less inviting.

  • Outside: If possible, get rid of woodpiles (especially next to the house), tin cans, piles of cardboard and plywood. “Those are perfect places for insects,” Zack says. 
  • Inside: Don’t make a pile of shoes in the closet — that’s practically an apartment complex for a spider — but instead hang them on one of those back-of-door shoe hangers, Zack says. Keep items from accumulating on the floor, including books. “Don’t allow things to build up,” Zack says. “Those are great habitats for spiders.

“A little organization will go a long way to helping to eliminate the problem.”